Saturday, March 21, 2009


We got a blue envelope in the mail today. All you Dutchies know what those blue envelopes mean - the belastingdienst. I think it is funny that it is 2009 and just now the Dutch tax department is clearing their records from 2006. And I'm a little annoyed that one of last active links we have to the Netherlands is a tax bill that we already paid.

This week, I was folding Rebecca's outgrown clothes, organizing many of them in sizes 68, 74, and 80 rather than 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months. I smiled as I thought about how cute she was in each little outfit. And I'm so happy that she has fun little Dutch outfits to wear even now.

Tickets to Amsterdam this week are half of what they were last month (but who's watching?). I realize that is still $750 more than I should pay for a trip. But part of me would love to buy a ticket and take off for Schiphol, catch a train and knock on the door of some dearly missed friends, show up personally at the Belastingdienst to clear up any other bills that may haunt us in future years, and maybe even shop at Hema for some size 92 little girl clothes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Anniversary that Wasn't

December 31, 2008 came quietly. Quite opposite of December 31, 2007 - our move date from the Netherlands back to the USA.

The day came and went, and although I certainly thought about what was happening a year ago, there were other things to think about. Work, seeing Dan and Rebecca after a few days away, preparing for Grandma and Grandpa to visit...

A year and a couple weeks later, we are living with very few boxes left to unpack. (Those boxes have things like Barbies and college textbooks in them, so I'm not sure they will ever be unpacked.) We have a house I'm still in love with, a fabulous washer and dryer pair, and a fair amount of furniture to sit on or store in. In the spring, I went to work everyday wondering when I was going to unpack my shoes and business suits. I didn't, so now my closet is full of just the right amount of new shoes and clothes. I guess I gave away more things that I thought I had.

My hope was that this blog could outlast our expat time and be a place to chronicle the ex-expat life. Obviously, I underestimated the activities of moving back and returning to "American" life, and that is reflected in the neglect of this blog.
I'm still full of memories and wishes and longings of our time overseas. So, if you are still out there, check back every month or so and see if I can empty those memories and wishes and longings into this space. I would love to share!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pay it Forward: The Anti-October 20 Incident

So, the morning we were leaving Moldova, we were robbed. Funny. Never saw it coming. But, hey, we were, and now we're moving on. I'm still watching the mail for my pictures and Dan's address book, though.

Anyway, to combat the bad, here's a little bit of good. I'm paying it forward. Here are the rules, as published by monART: (By the way, check out her new little baby girl. don't you want to squeeze the little pixie?)

-I will send the first three people to leave a comment on this post a handmade gift within the next 365 days.
-I am willing to post [mail] anywhere in the world
-The catch is that you have to have a blog and be willing to do the same thing....
-So if you'd like to participate, then leave me a comment and make sure to leave me a valid email address so that I can contact you for your address, etc.
-So if you're game then go ahead and comment!
-So I'll send to the first three persons with a valid e-mail address leaving a comment and posting this "post it forward" on their blog too

So, who out there is reading this, has a blog, and is willing to pay it forward?

Friday, October 24, 2008


To you who stole our things: Return our pictures. Files, too. Unfortunately, you know where to find us.


You know things went completely, totally wrong on your return trip when your hands have blisters from luggage-handling.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not DE-Expatriate-ized

What does it say about me if, in the 2 weeks I've been in Moldova, I've forgotten that there is a car - actually, two cars - waiting for us to use in the garage? And what if the fact that we will be returning to the United States from Moldova seems like a fantasy? What if it doesn't seem like our house in the USA is really our house, and that I cannot really picture us living there?

After 6 months of being back in Birmingham, if I forget about that life after I'm away from it for 2 weeks, maybe I'm not as de-expatted as I thought I was was...

Friday, October 17, 2008


The purpose of being in Moldova right now is to lead a group of businessmen as they learn more about the microfinance program with which we work. We hope to use trips like this to facilitate the growth of the agency and to find people who are willing to help to create jobs in this country. We've had a series of meetings and 4 visits to clients and lots of informal discussions. It's been good! Prior to the guys arriving, we've had a number of talks with others as well, to help us understand Moldova better.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from these times:

The silly:
"Couple of cherries" (The fruit of the Romanian lesson Dan set up for the guys. It's the easiest way to remember how to say 'You're welcome" in Romanian.)

"I should have prepared the devotional in Romanian after hearing how well you speak the language." (A pastor to the guys after hearing them say 'Couple of cherries' and various Romanian greetings.)

"Don't fall off the porch!" (Us to a client. There were no guardrails on this particular porch.)

"I should sell my stupid apartment in this stupid country and buy a nice house in Huntsville." (A teacher from Chisinau (who had been to Huntsville) who is wondering what keeps him in this country, the poorest in Europe and unhappiest in the world.)
(There is a better link out there somewhere, but I can't find it at the moment...)

The serious:
"The government sets the price of bread at 60 cents per loaf. Our cost is 80 cents per loaf. When the government saw we take a loss, they say we give a donation to the state at 20 cents per loaf and that we must pay tax on the 'donation'." (Interviewing the management at bakery in the village outside of Hincesti.)

"This house will be one of the only aftercare homes in the country for women recovering from being trafficked. We'll take 12 women and they can live here for about 1 year to get back on their feet." (The husband of the home's director, who is planning for the opening of their home this month.)

"At my former school, the principal tells me that 100 of the 150 students do not have parents looking after them. 100 out of 150 students have parents who have left Moldova without them." (A board member to the group after being asked how the emigration of Moldovans is impacting the family unit.)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Typical here in Moldova, we spent the first 4 or 5 days of the trip getting situated, and now things have taken off. It's amazing how fluid appointments here can e-mail asking for a mobile phone number, a phone call, and 2 hours later, tea at the French cafe. We like this way of working. It takes a little getting used to - and a little faith that we will accomplish something while we are here! Nevertheless, we find we can do a lot this way, one conversation leads to a couple of other meetings and those contacts are typically easy to arrange at the last minute.

It's so very different than the Netherlands and the USA. In the Netherlands, people are very "afspraak" driven, with most everybody working out of an "agenda" and scheduling appointments days, or even weeks, in advance. There are spontaneous drop-ins, most definitely, but scheduled afspraaks are important. In America, I find in my circles at least, that it's a little of both - schedule and plan, but leave it somewhat spontaneous since we are all busy and might be called away for any given reason at any given time.

I've been thinking about how all of these methods are effective, and how they are all unique to the culture. Moldova is all about networking and flexibility. The Netherlands, more engineered and formal. The USA, a blend of cultures but geared towards individuals rather than community. Impose agendas and strict time codes in Moldova, and all that ends up happening is a lot of missed appointments. Work with the fluid appointments typical of Moldova, and in the USA it would be difficult to find times when all the parties are available.

So here we are, Americans who lived in the Netherlands doing things the Moldovan way, and getting work accomplished. Dan and Beth didn't waste their trip to Moldova!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Valid Question #2 to Ask

"One kilogram?!?!?!?!" the lady at the bakery asked.

I nodded, "Da." Well, when three potato pies were loaded onto the scale and I saw the scale was only registering 0.25 kilos, I understood why she asked the question. I certainly did not need 12 potato pies! Potato pies are light! I ended up with six and there is still one left over.

Even more than Holland and certainly more than in the States, people here shop by weight rather than quantity or volume. I suppose if I could have remembered how to say "5" in Russian, I could have asked for 5 pies rather than 1 kilo! But buying by weight is important here. I ordered a 390 gram pizza the other day. Could not remember if that's like a Pizza Hut personal pizza or an extra large Papa John's. Turns out it's more like a 12-inch.

When I cook with our friends, they think of everything in terms of weight:
"Three hundred grams of pork will be enough because we'll have 1 kilo of potatoes," they tell me. I ask, "Is that 12 potatoes?"
"We need 50 grams of rice," they announce. "Is that 1/2 cup of rice?" I wonder.

It's good for a diet! I know that after I ate 2/3s of my pizza, I'm was going to weigh 260 grams more!

Valid Question #1 to Ask

Does the elevator in your building work?

One of my friends, a local Moldovan, asked me that very question today. (It does.)

We visited a friend on Tuesday who lives in one of the old-style Soviet concrete high rises. We bravely (naively?) got into the elevator. Dan punched the button (think manual typewriter keys from 1950, and you have an idea of the buttons on this elevator) and we rose to the 5th floor. Rebecca wondered why it was so dark, I wondered why it was shaking so much. When we got to our floor, we all jumped when we heard what we thought was a gunshot. It wasn't - instead, it was just the button popping out! The doors opened, we found our friends, we ate pie.

Oh, then there is the story from last year: my husband and some other friends had to CLIMB OUT (not just step out) of our elevator because it stopped midway between floors. Now THAT'S a great memory!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If on a Budget in Moldova...

...don't eat at restaurants that advertise "American" cuisine. For lunch, three of us ate a normal lunch at such a place for 460 lei, or about $46. I left hungry. For dinner, three of us ate very well at a local place close to our apartment for 200 lei, or about $20. We had food left over.

In general, I'm surprised at how much prices are rising here. My favorite Moldovan meal at one of our favorite restaurants was about $6 in 2005 and now it is $9.50. I think last year it was about $8.50. The dollar here has lost value, so that contributes to some of it. But it is mainly due to the high inflation.

If we keep eating so well, and if the stock market doesn't recover, we might not have enough money to get back to America! (Just kidding, Mom.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Just In Time

I was starting to itch again to get overseas. I was NOT looking forward to the packing and the traveling, but I was ready for how my senses are heightened as I try to figure out new challenges and experiencing something that's not quite so common. So now we are in Moldova, and I'm scratching that itch.

Granted, we've been here enough that things aren't quite as different as they seemed to be the first time we were here. And as the years go on, Moldova is becoming much more Western: big shiny new buildings poking out from behind some of the more historical buildings in the city as well as more and more imports, even Dutch canned food and the German oatmeal I bought from C1000 in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, there is something very stimulating about being here. And it's just in time, because recently the most exciting part of my life was NOT VERY EXCITING. My life in Birmingham is just so...predictable...and normal. I'm going to have to do something about that when I get back.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kids Here Speak English

Yesterday I, as part of a 5-person team of adults, tried to keep track of one 4-year old, two 3-year olds, two 2-year olds, two 1-year olds, and one 10-month old at the zoo. About the time I was trying to wrangle a two-year old and my very own one-year old out of the display crate in which the local rhino had been transported, I realized that I've broken yet another re-patriation barrier. I talk to kids without thinking they only speak Dutch. (Very timely - I wasn't sure how to say, "Please don't roll around in the rhino crate, Rebecca and Tori!" or "Why yes, Ainsley, those lorikeets love when we feed them nectar, but their claws are puncturing my scalp, and I think some wings are getting tangled in my hair." ) But I digress...

This is quite a new development: Just a couple weeks ago at the church nursery, I was thinking in Dutch. I served "koekjes" instead of cookies. And I wanted to ask if the children were "moe" instead of tired. And how exciting it was that sweet Emily is "lopen!" err...I mean walking. When it comes to my lingering foreign language use, this is the last frontier. For a few months already, really the only time I slip into Dutch, is when I'm speaking to children, my own not included.

A bit bittersweet, this latest ex-expat milestone is. My language skills are languishing quickly. If I'm not careful, it won't be too long before Dan and I have to spell words in English rather than speak them in Dutch when we need to keep Rebecca out of the loop!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


No doubt, the last 9 months (nine!) has been absolutely nuts! I've lost count of the number of places we've slept since we left The Netherlands. Waaaaay many. And that includes Rebecca, too! I tell you, little kids are so adaptable...give Rebecca a good book, some time to run around, some entertaining family members, and a cookie every now and then, and she's set. Of course, when we embarked on this move 9 (nine!) months ago, she was still crawling...but that's for another blog (which, is waaaaay neglected as well).

You all don't want to hear about everything we've been through since we boarded that plane from Schiphol on New Year's Eve. But this is what I'm going through now...memories. And that's a good thing! I've been so consumed with buying a house, working again, unpacking, baby girl, letting myself remember European life has been a luxury. This means a couple things - first, that I have more time. Second, that I've figured out remembering good memories doesn't have to be sad. They can be nice.

Here are a few of my favorite memories tonight:

Near daily walks pushing a stroller with a little girl in it. I'd often end up singing crazy songs or doing a play-by-play like we were racing other strollers to keep Rebecca happy those last few meters to the house.

I still like my memories of ducks and bandit geese at the lake in Rotterdam.

The crazy things we transported on our bikes...from shopping carts to cats in cages.

Trying to spell things to Dutch kids before I learned the alphabet in Dutch. "H" is pronounced "ha". Got that now.

Visits from friends! Friends! Who had time to get together! And I did, too!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

For My Dear Friend Mindy

Love you, girl.

P.S. Now accepting all offers for help chasing around a little girl; unpacking as of yet unpacked boxes; getting out of a frump about missing being overseas; decorating; finding childcare, doctors, dentists, and other service professionals; preparing for a potential multi-million dollar government contract, or...blogging!

P.P.S. Thank you, by the way, to all of you (including Dear Friend Mindy) who have helped with the above.

P.P.P.S. Add an "S" to the end of "Day" in the pic above and you have a perfect summary of our life this year! Ain't Rebecca cute, by the way?